- Folklore and Tradition
The carnival calendar in Wallonia begins with a bang in Binche. Every Shrove Tuesday, this walled city hosts a festival so ancient it has been listed by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Indeed, Binche has been a byword for indulgence for so long that it actually gave the English language the term “binge”.
The undisputed stars of the Carnival de Binche are outlandish costumed male characters called “Gilles”, who are dressed identically in masks and straw-padded suits bearing heraldic symbols and jingling bells (a homage to the elaborate, Inca-inspired costumes worn by guests at an infamous feast held here in 1549 to honour Emperor Charles V).
Early on Shrove Tuesday, small “brotherhoods” of Gilles clomp their way down to Binche’s fairy-tale town hall in their matching clogs. Here the participants perform a time-honoured, formalised dance while shaking wooden sticks to scare off any lurking evil spirits.
Once all the brotherhoods are assembled, the Gilles unite into an enormous pack of up to a thousand men, don ornate ostrich-feathered headgear and march back across town together. Each now carries a wicker basket full of oranges and lobs the fruit intermittently into the heaving crowd. (It is incredibly bad luck to throw one back: the oranges are metaphorical blessings).
So important has the Binche festival become that it has spawned a permanent museum here too. The International Carnival and Mask Museum retraces the history of similar festivals and carnivals across the world, including a detailed analysis of those held here in Wallonia.
- From 07:00: actors in costume, violins and drums all around town
- 16:00: the procession starts at the junction between Avenue Burlet and Avenue Wanderpepen
- 18:00: the procession ends Avenue Charles Deliège
- From 10:00: the youth orchestra plays the viola.
- 16:00: the children will play music through the streets of the city
- 16:30: Rondeau de l'amitié (folkloric dances) on the Grand-Place.
- 19:00: magnificent fireworks at the railway station
- From 08:30: Gilles, Peasants, Pierrots, Sailors and Harlequins bring cheerfulness the city. They will gather on the Grand Place then join a reception at the town hall, wearing their traditional wax mask.
- From 15:00: procession of Gilles, Peasants, Pierrots, Sailors and Harlequins. The Gilles will wear their hat decorated with ostrich feathers and will be distributing oranges along the way.
- 17:30: the procession arrives at the Grand Place and performs a Rondeau
- 20:00: lit procession from Avenue Charles Deliège followed by a rondeau on the Grand Place
- 21:00 pm: fireworks